Is Government Criteria for Local Councils making their local plan under the National Policy Framework too stringent?

Difficulties in constructing viable local plans in accordance with the National Policy Framework (NPF), has resulted in large scale development in countryside areas completely against the desires of local people and local authorities.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has criticised the NPF in a new paper issued at the start of September entitled “Targeting the Countryside” which has studied the appeal decisions on applications for major housing developments on greenfield land since March 2012 up to May 2014.

It noted that the Planning Inspectors overturned decisions of local councils in the vast majority of cases where there is no defined land supply allocated as potential housing land within the local structure plan.

In 72 cases, planning permissions being approved resulted in 27,000 homes being granted consent (8.5% of all houses planned across the country during that period).

In March 2012 the National Planning Policy Framework was implemented which we have commented on previously. This requires local councils to demonstrate a land supply for housing for the next five years in an attempt for central government to force local authorities to allocate enough land for their perception of housing requirements. This was meant to help boost house building, instigated at the time of greater economic frailty in the depths of the recession.

Councils without a local plan are not able to decide where developments should go in their local authority area. Less than 18% of councils have had plans approved by the Government. This is generally due to the onerous criteria of constructing viable plans.

There are 864 councils in the UK, of which 784 are in England.

Only 17.6% of councils have had plans approved by the government.

Those councils or planning authorities who have not managed to create plans often have the decision of whether or not a development goes ahead taken away from them provided the developer can create an application that justifies that “wishy-washy” phrase “Sustainable Development”.

Furthermore the CPRE reports that those Councils who have not managed to meet their targets face the punishment of finding an extra 20% of land as their “buffer” to ensure “choice and competition”.

“Targeting the Countryside” has looked at the planning appeal decisions from every region of England where local councils had rejected applications for development of 10 or more houses on Greenfield land. This resulted in looking at 309 planning appeal decisions. The research shows that one in six local refusals were overturned by the planning inspector even where the council was meeting its targets.

John Rowley, Planning Officer at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, who co-ordinated the report comments “these figures show that current policy is encouraging unnecessary house building in the countryside against the wishes of local people. We need to see a more transparent and less punitive system which does not allow unrealistic housing targets [to satisfy Central Governments macro-economic needs and housing building pressure groups visiting Westminster] to override local concerns.

“The Government should remove the automatic presumption for development where there is no five year land supply. It should also immediately stop demanding an extra 20% housing requirement from councils already struggling to meet targets.

“We support the Government’s desire to simplify planning and meet the urgent need for new homes. Yet councils must be provided with detailed guidance on housing targets, and brownfield land must be prioritised so that unnecessary greenfield development is not so blatantly and regularly allowed through the back door.”

It is quite clear however that the additional costs of developing brownfield sites is not so attractive for developers who make more money by irrevocably concreting over the countryside starting with a “greenfield”, rather than starting with land that requires clearing and cleaning prior to commencing development.

The CPRE fights for a better future for the English countryside. They work locally and nationally to protect, shape and enhance the beautiful thriving countryside for everyone to value and enjoy.


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